Should Sam Mullet be made to study for a GED?

The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports on the latest controversy surrounding Sam Mullet and imprisoned members of his community:

The federal Bureau of Prisons is forcing some imprisoned members of an Ohio Amish community to study for high school equivalency certificates in violation of their First Amendment rights, a lawyer for the sect contends.

Lawyer Edward Bryan, who represents imprisoned Amish bishop Samuel Mullet, said Friday he intends to write a letter of protest to prison officials cite a U.S. Supreme Court decision that found Amish children could not be forced to attend school past 8th grade.

“It’s a legitimate purpose and an honorable thing to rehabilitate prisoners by requiring them to obtain their GEDs,” Bryan told The Plain Dealer. “But you have to make exceptions, especially for religious reasons.”

This is another complication in the Mullet saga, one which raises the question of how far religious exemptions extend behind prison walls.

Does Wisconsin v. Yoder apply to federally-convicted adults faced with fulfilling a requirement of their incarceration?  This also leaves aside the matter of whether the group should be considered “Amish”.

The Plain Dealer is running an editorial in support of Mullet’s position, entitled “Forcing classes on Amish inmates is unconstitutional and just plain unnecessary“. The editorial refers to Yoder in arguing that a GED degree for Mullet and others is unnecessary and may even be harmful to them when they are released.

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    1. Emily

      No way is this legally or morally right. The prison needs to just give that a rest.

    2. Barb

      I don’t think this needs to be a “someone wins/someone loses” situation. During the time of the draft into the military, the anabaptists worked with the government to develop i-W service where instead of being drafted into the military, the men served 2 years of service in places like hospitals and national parks and forests — have not researched where all. While I understand the intention of requiring the prisoners study for their GED, the model of the 1-W service could be used to determine an alternate activity for the men’s time. Something useful, but which does not go against their practice of 8th grade education. Unfortunately, in today’s climate, it seems there is less compromise, and more “need to win”. But one can hope for reasonable minds.

    3. Margaret

      Moral issues aside for a moment

      When I studied for the GED many years ago while considered equivalent of high school diploma–it was manageable with 8 th grade education. One didn’t need a full high school education to attain enough points to pass. In that regard ONLY it shouldnt be a big deal.

      But I think there’s a bigger picture here. Seems like this group went radical. That was there downfall. I think there safely behind bars. Leave them be for now. They do have a right not to be educated if that is there wish. I’m not totally sure how they’ll function in society without skills but for now leave them be.

      I’m not promoting one religion over another but the Duggar family has always home schooled their kids. It based on faith. Perhaps with some guidance from outside prison walls a good alternative might be found. One that has less emphasis on “education” but more on building valuable work skills–like wood working or farming. I’m not saying these folks don’t know how to read but maybe skills to reading weather reports and how those projections could affect them as farmers.

      For instance out in NV they use prisoners for gentling wild horses. You learn patience and love. You learn valuable marketable skills. I haven’t heard anyone being forced to learn their ABC’s. So it could be cultural. And that is a crying shame.

      As offensive as these people’s actions were lets take a deep breath and look at the reasoning behind the GED aspect. Is it a lack of understanding on the prison warden’s part? He wants these folks “educated” so they won’t make a return trip to his prison? I can understand that. Might not be the right path but I can understand what his motivation might be. If he’s like pro education and EVERYONE has to meet GED requirements then I think he’s overstepping his authority.

      I think having marketable skills is important. Learning basic bookkeeping should be a part of this. I’m not saying college level CPA stuff. And having some kind of faith based approach is essential in this case.

      Not sure this came out the way I intended. But I hope you see the difference between what the warden wants and the direction I’m suggesting. It still isn’t about high school math, science and biology. But about faith guided experiences. Perhaps someone in the Mennonite community would be a valuable resource for one and all.

    4. Greg Brothers


      They are convicts and as such should be required to comply like the other convicts. They have no rights in jail far as I’m concerned. Their self serving actions put them there so they can comply. The question was study not pass the final test.

    5. You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him think. Who said they had to pass? They can just sit there and pretend to study, until the cows come home. Ohio shouldn’t waste taxpayer dollars by assigning them a teacher. BTW, who let the lawyer in to see them?

    6. Lauren Futch - North Carolina

      Hmm…this is a touchy subject. I can see both sides.

      I’m absolutely against infringing on an individual’s constitutional rights, especially when it deals with religion.

      However, this may just be my opinion, but it seems to me that the Sam Mullet group plays the “Amish card” when it is convenient. The group behaves in no way like any other Amish group, yet they want to use the term “Amish” to describe themselves when it they think it will exempt them from following the rules or accepting responsibility for their actions.

      Like I said, it’s a slippery slope. However, I feel like they lost the privilege to call themselves Amish a long time ago.

      1. LynnB

        I completely agree! The Amish dont consider Mullets group Amish, he stopped even having worship, and imposed his will on those he felt deserved it- very NON-Amish behavior. He doesnt have to pass, but to be made to sit there along with other offenders is not wrong.

    7. Eli S.

      I had a formal education only to grade 8. Later in life, I studied for and obtained a GED. It became evident what the later years of education do that primary grades do not. That difference is what I call analytic thinking. The extra learning asks “why is this so?” And I recognize that little difference can make managing an Amish community more difficult.

      I think Sam and company should have to take the course, not for the paper diploma, but to then ask themselves why they believe the things they do and cling to so strongly. High school education would incline them to do this.

      The extra education will have a lot less immediate religious impact on them than the prison environment. I say all this because prison alone will not change Bergholz’s problems. If not education, then what?

    8. Sandra Kathleen

      From my perspective, the reasoning of no further formal education after 8th grade was to shield Amish children from worldly behaviors and greater societal cultural norms: we’re talking about impressionable children.

      I think the group exited that “out” by way of its actions: one would certainly agree they are not particularly vulnerable youngsters anymore.

      So, I’d ask, “Why not: what else would they do with their time.”

      My daughter also took the GED exam; it is more a reading and reasoning test, than one filled with specific facts. You do need basic knowledge, however, but, as has been mentioned before, a good 8th grade education will probably suffice. In other words, I don’t think it’s going to impinge on this group’s religious thought one way or another…and, should their later actions should shun them from their community, it would give them a “skill” that will help them survive on their own.

    9. Debbie H

      My first reaction was no they should not but then I read Greg’s comment and I can kind of agree with him, they gave up their freedoms when they broke the law. Also, I ask, “how do we determine if some one is really an Amish, Christian, Jew etc or using their religion to get their way?” Very confusing. I believe an unbiased mediator should work with prison officials and this bishop to compromise, maybe bring in an Amish or Mennonite advisor.

    10. Donna Godfrey

      I too see both sides…..
      But…..Their breaking the law got them in prison. When you go to prison you have to meet the requirements the state has set up. They cannot begin to make exceptions because than every lazy person in prison will find a “religious” reason they cannot do what is required.
      I have know many to get degrees in prison because they have wanted to better themselves and use all that time in a very constructive manner. To me this group needs to learn how to be productive by learning discipline,meeting goals, reading and skills in math too.
      The GED program in prison is to learn but also to help them develop skills.
      There is no way in my mind that this is to infringe on their religious liberty….rules are rules in prison that they need to understand they did a crime and so they have to follow the rules.
      I think rebellion is a problem with these men as is anger and so we need to pray they turn to God and work on these areas.

    11. Alice Mary

      I never knew that all inmates in all federal prisons who don’t have a high school diploma must be forced to study/earn a GED. What a waste of money! I agree with the editorial. I’m guessing Sam completed at least most of grade school (it wasn’t always an 8th grade education in every Amish community—I’ve heard of some quitting at 6th grade, maybe earlier). The fact is, Wisconsin vs. Yoder still stands, and (despite what he/his followers have done) he IS Amish (of SOME sort—hey, there are all kinds of Christians with all kinds of denominational “rules”—it’s not up to the rest of us to deem any one of them better or worse than the other, or to call one “more” Christian–or Amish–than the other). Amish in this case still means (due to WI vs. Yoder) NO SCHOOL BEYOND 8TH GRADE. Simple. Save the money for other things…more baloney sandwiches or “Nutraloaf” for the prisoners to eat.

      I’d like to know how the Govt. “forces” people to study/earn a GED if they don’t want to—do they starve them (which I think could be considered cruel and unusual punishment)? Does anyone know? It states in the editorial that Mullet wants an early out, and causing this kind of trouble might be one way of achieving that goal.

      If they want more education, let them seek it for themselves when they’ve completed their sentences and are released. In the meantime, “force” them to make drivers licenses, sweep floors, scrub out latrines, grow vegetables in prison gardens, etc. Then, there’s always prayer. Don’t waste MY money on the likes of someone like Sam Mullet and his lackeys. Maybe with LESS education, they’ll “fade away” that much sooner.

      To me, forcing an education on someone who does not want it is like casting pearls before swine!

      Alice Mary

    12. Ed

      I had strong feelings about the case itself. But this is too inconsequential to get opinionated about.

    13. Just an update if you did not see it, it was reported last week that Mullet and the others were exempted from this requirement:

    14. Ed

      Obviously their religious views have been respected, even in prison.